Reviewed: April 20, 2008
Released: March 12, 2008
When I first picked up the controller to play the original Condemned back when the Xbox 360 was the coolest thing on the market, I was presented with a visceral and ultimately unnerving presentation. Monolith Productions has released several unnerving title in the last couple years. They have continued to find new ways to scare the living shit out of us time and time again since that title’s release and this year they have done it again with the release of Condemned 2: Bloodshot for the Xbox 360.
You return as Ex-Special Agent Ethan Thomas, who is now a darker, grungier version of his former self. It is has been 11 months since the events of Criminal Origins and Ethan has resorted to the booze and practically living on the street.
Ethan is soon recruited back into the Serial Crimes Unit (or SCU) to investigate the mysterious call to Lieutenant Rosa from his old “pal”, Malcolm Vanhorn. To make matters worse SKX has resurfaced and is leaving a bloody trail for Ethan and the SCU to follow.
As I mentioned above, I played the original Condemned and I was thoroughly impressed with my experience with it. I also happen to be a big fan of Monolith’s other endeavor, F.E.A.R., so I am no stranger to having the crap scared out of me as far as these two series are concerned. I will admit that I thought that Criminal Origins was still the scariest game I had ever played on the console… that is until I popped Condemned 2 into my 360.
Condemned 2 returns with the same basic interface as the last title with a few tweaks added here and there. Your Health bar is still located in the upper left hand corner, however this time around it is broken up into 3 sections. Since this title relies on hand to hand melee combat a bit more than Criminal Origins, the three part health bar makes sense. When you are being beat to death your health bar drops. If an enemy does little damage to you before you kill them your health will regenerate to full inside the third section (full health). However if you are taken down into the first health section, it will only regenerate until that section is full.
As I mentioned above, Bloodshot takes the hand to hand melee combat even farther than the previous release. This time around you can perform devastating combos by alternately pressing the Left and Right Triggers. This did take some time to get used to since the original Condemned only used the Right Trigger to attack and the Left Trigger to block. Also new to Bloodshot is the ability to throw the melee weapon you have in your hand at your enemies or environment to trip up your opponent long enough for you to get several good licks in.
Along with the advanced melee system, you also gain the Combo Meter and the Chain Attack Meter. The Combo Meter alerts you when a combo can be performed, but you have to be fast as you only have a small window of opportunity to use them. The trick being to wait for a weakness in the opponents attacks then strike without getting hit.
My favorite part about the newly advanced melee system is without a doubt the Chain Attacks. The first time I pulled one off killing my opponent, I literally sat there with my jaw dropped. They are just awesome and painful to watch at the same time.
In the upper right corner of your screen you’ll find the Chain Attack Meter. When you start out you only have one segment to fill, but you can have a total of three segments. The other two have to be earned though. The segments fill up slowly while you’re fighting, however they fill up faster if complete Combos, Specialty kills and my personal favorite, the environmental finishes.
Once you fill up the bar(s) to max, shown with a bull’s-eye, you can double tap the Left or Right Trigger to enter the Chain Attack mode. Here’ you must time your button presses with the onscreen hot keys. If you miss a hotkey by even a second the Chain Attack fails. Fear not though, you can try again as you do not lose the Chain Attack option after failing. The Environmental Pwnage Areas, or EPA’s, are my second favorite finisher moves. If you get your opponent on their knees, you can grab them by pressing the Left and Right Triggers simultaneously and direct them to the nearest Pwnage point. Be it a TV, glass display case, dumpster or balcony railing, it is just awesome to pull these attacks off.
During the previous Condemned, only the firearms had a breaking point when used as melee weapons. This time around everything you can use as a melee weapon has a breaking point. This adds to the frantic fights and leaves the player going “oh crap” while he/she dukes it out with bare fists. If your weapon does break on you and you’re not in a fight, then it’s time to find a new weapon pronto.
Condemned 2: Bloodshot also gives you a wider variety of melee weapons to use this time around. You still can find the classic rebars, electrical conducts, crutches from the first title as well as new weapons such as toilet seats, prosthetic arms, foosball poles, bowling balls and my personal favorite, the broadsword.
For anyone familiar with Criminal Origins, you’ll know that while firearms were present, often sparingly, the real method of fighting was with environmental objects. There was even an even an achievement for completing the title without firing a shot. That may sound hard but it is very doable. In Bloodshot, the emphasis to use melee fighting over firearms is still present, but it sadly deteriorates to gun fights later on in the adventure. This alone was one of the disappointing aspects of Bloodshot.
There are a few things that make using a gun in the actual story often times harder than actually fighting with melee weapons. Obviously Ethan is a drunk, so when you do use a gun especially the assault rifle when aiming down the sights for a zoomed kill, the gun wavers like a… well you can figure that one out. The only way to somewhat accurately shot a gun in Bloodshot is to drink from alcohol bottles that you will find laying around. If you haven’t figured it out already, this title deserves every bit of the “M” rating.
The storyline of Bloodshot was pretty good; however it got real weird by the last couple of levels. You also don’t have to play the first Condemned to get this one, but it’s more satisfying if you have. Bloodshot’s storyline is tight at the beginning but loses its self amidst all the gunplay, unlike Condemned: Criminal Origins, which had a tight although short storyline throughout your adventure. I did however appreciate the longer story line though, so that is a plus for me.
The forensics aspect is back with a vengeance and better than ever. In the first title, the amount of forensic investigation you did was extremely limited and did nothing more that helped the story along with cutscenes explaining what the hell was going on. This time through, the Forensic Investigations play a bigger role in the story than before.
Every time you happen across a crime scene and there are some pretty screwed up ones, you are given the option to literally figure out how the crime went down or what the clues will lead to later on down the line. Only this time you get graded on it after you submit your answers. There are several instances where the correct answers make no sense whatsoever, until something happens later on via crime scene or cutscene. When these do happen then everything just clicks.
Your ultimate objective is to get perfects on every question, but a lot of times you will just be guessing and will get a less than perfect score. This does get a bit frustrating if you screw up and are going for the “All Gold” achievement. However, you often hit a checkpoint before each of the crime scenes. Getting a “Gold” rating at the end of a level gives you a permanent boost to Ethan’s stats.
No matter how you well you do on the questions and answers, you still get something for your troubles. They just are not as good as they could be. A perfect example would be when you get access to the taser. If you get a “Gold” rating on that particular level, you are rewarded with a five shot taser. However if you get a good ranking you are given a three shot taser. I don’t know what happens if you totally bomb out on the forensic stuff, but I don’t plan on finding out any time soon.
The developers set to unnerve the crap out of you with well designed, albeit mostly linear, levels. There were a few times when a level loaded, I sat there and said “Ah hell no” before I even started moving around. Two of the creepiest levels for me were the doll factory and the beginning part of the Black Lake Lodge level. There is just something about little pull-string dolls waving at you before they detonate in your face that puts your nerves on end. Those things are worse than cockroaches. I won’t go into much detail about the beginning part of the Black Lake Lodge level, but I will say that something is very, very wrong there.
Okay this is one of the areas of Condemned 2 that really shines. The graphics this time around are very much improved in every aspect over the last titles. Just when you thought that things couldn’t get any darker, gritty and downright disgusting, Monolith pulls the rug out from under you and sends you face first into a black oily hell.
In the very first level you end up traveling down alleys that are literally covering in this nasty black substance that squishes under your footsteps. To make things worse you soon get attacked by creatures that come from out of nowhere, which are covered from head to toe in that awful black crap. These creatures can be dispatched easily but not before they get a lick or two in on you. It also doesn’t help when you get to the part of a building that is covered from ceiling to floor with this stuff.
The character models are also much better that last time with a few exceptions her and there. Agent Dorland and Director Farrell seem to look a little rough compared to Rosa’s character model. Ethan often looks like he did a face plant in flour sometimes but the fact remains that they are still leagues above the character models in Criminal Origins.
While the good side looks awesome, the Influenced side looks even better that before. A few of the enemies that I particularly liked was the Graffiti Girls, The Lollipop Bondage Barbie, and The Oro. The Graffiti Girls had the coolest outfit by far and they even use those spray cans as a blowtorches. Can you say…hot.
If you played the first Condemned then you should be well acquainted with the entity known as “The Hate.” The Oro are a version of him only their main attack is vocal based. If they get close enough they emit a frequency similar to the emitters. They guys can really mess you up. These guys are my second favorite designed characters in Bloodshot.
The Lollipop Bondage Barbie as I call her was one of the more interesting mini-bosses in Condemned 2. When I entered the area before I encountered her, I took one look at all the med-kits that were everywhere and all I could say was “this is not going to be pretty.” It definitely wasn’t pretty, but again she’s still one of my favorite baddies for character design purposes.
The two things that pulls all these aspects together to send your brain into a corner cowering is the lighting and visual effects. There are times when even your flashlight, which should always be on, is not enough to help you see, and other times a lit room is often your worst enemy. Just when Bloodshot makes you feel safe, you get the crap scared out of you again.
There is one sequence in Bloodshot that features this weird grain effect that reminds me of the first time I watched “The Ring.” I was walking down a very empty FBI building, in the basement levels no less, and the screen would trip out, change from color to black and white, and even entities would appear for mere seconds before disappearing and reappearing again somewhere else when I least expected it.
The one thing that I was really impressed with was the overall look. There was just something about the lighting and camera movements that just sucked me in and made me feel like I was really there in Metro City. When I started up the first level I got a serious “Blair Witch” feel. It’s hard to really put into words, but as soon as you pop in this title you’ll see what I mean.
If the visuals are not enough to make you stop playing, the sound department sure will. There are times when you come to an area and it is dead quiet. The only thing you hear is your own footsteps and that bottle you just kicked across the floor. Damnit, that will make you jump. These are the moments when something will get your attention focused in front of you, only to blind-sided by the naked bum waiting in the bathroom behind you.
All the sound effects in Bloodshot are very believable and often times enough to make you cringe. There is nothing more sickening than the sound of someone’s head getting crushed in a press. While I was not really enthused with the amount of gunplay in Bloodshot, I did appreciate the sound effects that were used to make the weapons sounds believable.
The voice acting was a lot better than last time and I was surprised to learn that Greg Grunberg (Officer Parkman of “Heroes”) was not providing the voice of Ethan, this time around. The role goes to Andre Sogliuzzo, known for his role as Tony Montana in “Scarface: The World is Yours”, who provides a much darker grittier voice for Ethan. Henry Dittman, the voice of Kabuto Yakushi on Naruto, provides the voice of our own lovable, demented Serial Killer X.
To round things off, Bloodshot has an over-the-top atmospheric score that will send you scrambling for the light switch more than once. I played Bloodshot from beginning to end in the dead of night with the lights off and the volume turned up on my 5.1 Surround Sound System. I will admit that even I had to walk away from the game a few times. There is only so much one person’s senses can take in a sitting. I will admit it did take me a while to finish this one.
While the story campaign is the real guts and entrails of Condemned 2, there are a few extra modes to be played. The biggest addition to the world of Condemned is the multiplayer mode. There are 4 main game types that can be played via System Link or over Xbox Live. They are Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Bum Rush and Crime Scene. The first two are standard multiplayer fare, so no explanation needed there.
Bum Rush is basically Condemned’s version of King of the Hill. Players must hold off an onslaught of Influenced attackers for 3 minutes before they can be safely evacuated. This mode was actually pretty fun, but the last game type is the coolest.
Crime Scene pits SCU agents against the Influenced to find evidence of SKX’s handiwork, which in this case is a head in a box. The SC must use their forensic tools to hunt down and scan the evidence, while the Influenced must do everything in their power to keep that evidence hidden from them. This was by far the most enjoyable game type in multiplayer.
Besides the multiplayer mode there is the Bloodshot Fight Club. The BFC features 6 different modes to choose from, each with their own objectives to complete. Think of the Fight Club as the Challenge mode that you see in so many other titles. These objectives can vary from killing Thugs in Lockdown to practicing the art of fighting in the Practice Arena.
The one thing that I will note is that there is some lag here and there online and it makes fighting somewhat cumbersome and difficult. On a plus note the multiplayer modes retain every bit of the single player campaign’s creep factor. While you will probably play these modes a few times, there isn’t enough to do in the multiplayer field to keep your attention for very long, unless you are the type of player that loves to get all the achievements.
Honestly the Multiplayer and Fight Club modes were not really needed for this title but they do offer something new to the mix. The developers dared to try something new and in the end, I think that they did okay. Condemned 2: Bloodshot retails for $60 dollars at most retail stores.
At the end of the blood soaked night, I was very impressed with the Condemned 2. Monolith continues to be an unstoppable force in psychological terror. I was a little disappointed though with the amount of gun play and weak end to the story, but everything else makes up for that. Condemned 2 will have you cowering with its atmospheric terror and visceral visuals. I can’t wait to find out what happens in the next installment. Until then, I highly recommend buying this title. It just doesn’t get any scarier than this.